By William V. Shaftner
Palo Alto had just begun to spread out into the fields south of California Avenue. Truman, Churchill and Stalin were the big names in world politics. The S.P. commuter trains were pulled by steam locomotives. The Stanford Industrial Park wasn't there. That was 1952, the year when about twenty men from the business, professional and educational community met for weekly luncheons at Rickey's and formed the Palo Alto University Club.
Feeling there was a strong need for a club that would promote good fellowship among university businessmen and families, they decided to establish a permanent organization. From a list of 250 prospective members, 115 signed up. The University Club of Palo Alto was on its way. In addition to weekly luncheon meetings, a new social program was launched - such as swimming and dancing parties and bridge evenings at Rickey's. It was not unusual to have over 100 members and wives at these events. Until our present facilities were established, the Club met at Rickey's (except for a short period during an unsatisfactory attempt to establish permanent headquarters in the President Hotel downtown).
When it became apparent that the Club was a popular success in 1953, the members began in earnest to search for the ways and means of having their own clubhouse. Various sites and plans were studied and discussed over the next three years. Finally, in 1956, our present site was leased from Stanford and construction plans were approved. The first preference of the membership was the swimming pool. The promise of a new Club pool also proved to be a definite incentive for membership. Although the growing community sprouted several clubs, nearly 200 new members came into the University Club in 1957.
Such a large project as building or splendid new club facility was sure to have problems. To many it seemed to be an over-ambitious dream. But enthusiasm and resolve were there and the members and officers held to their dream, giving time, talent and money to the project. The summer of 1958 saw members and their families splashing in one of the most beautiful club swimming pools in northern California. The pool was open and in use several months before the clubhouse was finished. When the clubhouse was opened in the Spring of 1959, the members were very pleased with what they saw. A whole new era had begun.
The Directors of the Club soon found that they were dealing with a large plant and although most of them were business-oriented, this was to be a new experience for them. On their shoulders rested the heavy responsibility to steer this major investment through uncertain waters. There were many formidable problems such as running the dining room, selecting and supervising employees, pool maintenance and a hundred other items that had to be ironed out without previous experience to draw upon. Always, as with all clubs, present and future activities and growth depend on financial integrity. Decisions, especially in these formative, seemed always to be laced with complications. Fortunately, the Directors and members never lost sight of the purpose of the Club to provide fellowship and recreation for its members. Often by prudently deferring projects, and were made to meet and the Club grew on a sound basis.
By 1962, the Club had been guided to a financially sound position. It had developed a social program in response to the wishes and needs of its members and held a position of prestige in the community. Soon the tennis courts would be added for the large number of members interested in that game, which attracted many new members. The largest addition to the Club came in 1962 when the Alumni Room was added in response to the need for an all-purpose space. It serves as a library, meeting room, bridge room, and generally enhances the clubhouse. One of the most satisfying of the Clubs projects has been the Scholarship Fund, which was set up in 1963. This has grown steadily, mainly through member donations and memorial gifts. The Club takes much pride in seeing several college students helped on their way by this Fund every year.
The Palo Alto University Club will continue to grow and serve its many purposes of providing a meeting place and recreation for businessmen and families who find themselves "at home" in its congenial and pleasant surrounding. More importantly, the Club has been and will continue to be a place where many lasting friendships are formed.